Perfectionism is on the rise, according to multiple studies conducted over the last twenty-plus years. The “complex beast” as some have dubbed this particularism, has increased substantially among men and women who are afflicted equally.

Wait. Is afflicted the correct term? Is perfectionism a negative trait?

Psychological researchers define perfectionism as striving for flawlessness, holding excessively high personal standards, and having overly adverse reactions to perceived mistakes and setbacks.

But before we commit perfectionism to the adverse column, let’s delve into its various forms.

  • Self-oriented perfectionism: An internal desire to be perfect, that demands a high level of performance from oneself with a focus on one’s shortcomings.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism: The desire to live up to the expectation of perfection as perceived from others that may result in low self-esteem and difficulty in coping with stress and adversity.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism: Firmly demanding perfection from others that often expresses itself in an aggressive style of humor as a way to criticize others and seek domination while displaying little interest in helping and supporting other people.

Beth Fier, the clinical director of SEED Services: Partners for Counseling and Wellness, finds perfectionism to be problematic as folks tend to focus solely on the outcome. However, she acknowledges that many people desire to be high achieving, a goal that is worthy of both time and effort. She suggests replacing the focus on “perfect” with the concept of excellentism. “As an excellentist, people still want to do their best, but the term allows them to think more flexibly about how to do that,” Fier explains. It shifts the focus more on the process, which allows people to appreciate and enjoy the effort, the learning curve, and their growth along the way.

The Pros of Perfectionism

  1. Perfectionists generally possess higher levels of motivation and conscientiousness, traits that contribute to perseverance, tenacity, and commitment.
  2. A perfectionists’ drive to achieve compels him/her in a continual pursuit to do better. This internal push can lead to increased creativity, ambition, and success or mastery of most things the perfectionist sets out to accomplish. This intent also links to improved performance and overall well-being.

The Cons of Perfectionism

  1. Due to such a high self-standard, perfectionists may react with harshness when faced with real or perceived failure, even to the point of attacking themselves. Their extreme desire for perfection can result in a cycle of continual self-criticism and disappointment.

“Perfectionists are their own worst critics, “good enough” is never enough,” advises Dr. Su Yin Yap.

  1. “[Perfectionists] are also more likely to set inflexible and excessively high standards, to evaluate their behavior overly critically, to hold an all-or-nothing mindset about their performance, and to believe their self-worth is contingent on performing perfectly,” notes Brian Swider, Dana Harari,  Amy P. Breidenthal, and Laurens Bujold Steed.  Is it any wonder studies have found that perfectionists have higher levels of stressburnout, and anxiety.

Perfectionism and Data Science

The conundrum for data scientists is discerning when and when not to be a perfectionist.

Dan Wulin, Head of Data Science & Machine Learning at Wayfair, explains, “Strong data scientists will have a sense of ‘what is good enough’ to create a minimum viable product, and there will often be a mix of areas where the data scientist needs to pursue perfection versus areas where less-than-perfect is perfectly acceptable.”

Perfectionists tend to overlook the “good stuff” in their pursuit of the great, the excellent, the mind-boggling. Considering that most of the analysis data scientists conduct merely proves what was already suspected or possibly reveals nothing at all, an analyst seeking the find of the century may never be satisfied.

An analyst who feels compelled not to deliver business intelligence or insight until it’s fabulous may forfeit timely delivery in favor of the wait for something astonishing.

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